Adapting the alternative physics of Spelljammer to something new was the sticking point for me in turning the Toy Soldier Saga into something publishable. I have worked on this concept for a long time, and I think I’ve finally come up with something that works but is its own thing. Right now it’s a very loose idea and I will be working out the bugs as I write, but here it is, in a nutshell.
Spelljammer’s “bubbles in space with crystal shells” idea is unique. However, it’s based in Ptolemic physics. How that worked was that the Earth was the center of the universe (and then the sun later on,) and everything we see in the sky is on the inside of a “crystal sphere,” interlocking within one another like Russian dolls. Later theories of universe construction discussed the idea of the “crystal” actually being something a bit more ephemeral, something that holds the stars and planets in place but can be passed through like a veil.
That’s sort of the idea I’m running with. Each system exists within its own interlocking series of crystal spheres. The beauty of this is that one could still see the stars of other systems through these permeable membranes, so it’s a bit more like the universe we know, and less lame excuses have to be created to explain why we can see stars.
Gravitational forces move in currents. Now that in real-world physics we have confirmed the existence of gravitons, I’m sure that’s not as difficult to imagine as it might have been. Instead of odd, semi-two-dimensional “gravity planes,” each body, when sufficiently separated from other bodies, has its own whirlpool of gravity that surrounds it. Lining up these competing maelstrom currents so that they interact instead of compete dangerously with one another would require the same sideways approach as gravity planes would and would have very similar consequences of failure. These currents draw smaller, less dense bodies in, but also might swing them right around in a circle and out again. A ship might seem too small a body to create a gravity well of its own — but wait, I have an explanation, and I’ll get there.
Because gravity moves in currents between bodies, it creates slipstreams that travelers refer to as “Airts.” Their existence would a) explain why ships can move at light speed or faster, and b) what sails on a ship are for! The crew is needed to navigate the Airts. In which case, the function of the Pilot (Spelljammer) becomes twofold. The first is that a Pilot can actually sense the Airts, which most people cannot. The second . . .
Starfaring ships are constructed around special materials. Those materials are the seed-pods of giant cosmic trees, something like a cross between the starfly plants you remember from Spelljammer, and Trees of Life out of myth. These Trees of Life use Airts as a natural part of their life-cycle; their seeds are evolved to be carried along the Airts to find new systems to settle in. They can influence and create their own Airts to a limited extent as well. They bond in a symbiotic semi-telepathic link with Pilots because Pilots can help them to consciously navigate the Airts, and thus, they can travel through a much broader and larger area of the Universe than they would otherwise be able to, eventually picking a spot to plant and grow in. Elves know the secret of this and have been using the Trees of Life for millennia, but the other races don’t, and so they have been building devices around seed-pods or their fragments, unwittingly creating plant cyborgs. Also, it’s important to note that the elves have forgotten many of the things they used to know.
Trees of Life
Trees of Life have a special significance in my universe aside from this, but I’m not going to explain that, because that would be a major spoiler, as this is one of the mysteries that my characters must discover!
Phlogiston doesn’t exist, per se, in my universe. The areas between systems in my universe will be taken up with competing Airts, and will look no different from how things actually look in space in our world. How do you know you’re entering a system? The Oort Cloud will give you a clue, being the outer edges of a system’s gravity well. Some theorize that Airts might be powered by Quintessence, which can be explained either as the fifth element Aether, or a kind of dark energy in modern cosmological physics. I will still have it be a dangerous process to enter and leave a system, but that’s because of the Oort Cloud and the currents of Airts surrounding the outer edges of a system’s gravity well.
So, loosely, this is a rough look at my adapted physics. I welcome your thoughts!